HC Deb 22 July 1881 vol 263 cc1723-32

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."(Lord Frederick (Cavendish.)


rose to move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. This measure was a gigantic scheme for taxing the ratepayers in the Metropolis. It proposed to give the Metropolitan Board of Works permission to raise a sum of £4,540,000. It was quite true that a portion of that sum was re-voted; but if Parliamentary sanction was required for that sum being raised, he thought there should be some Parliamentary supervision over the money. In almost every instance in which a certain sum had been granted to the Board by Parliament, that sum had been exceeded, and then the Board came to that House to ask for an additional sum in excess of the sums granted by Bills last year, and in previous Sessions. He did not wish to take up the time of the House; but he wanted to put it to the House that there ought to be Parliamentary supervision over the expenditure of the Board, and the only way to obtain that would be by referring this Bill to a Select Committee. He could hardly think the Secretary to the Treasury would oppose his Motion, except on the ground of the lateness of the hour, for it must be an advantage to the Treasury to have the aid of a small Select Committee to investigate the expenditure of this Board, and especially to consider the excesses which bristled in every clause of the Bill. By Clause 4, £40,000 was asked for, instead of £30,000 last year, for the Fire Brigade. Previous to last year the amount was £20,000, and he wished to know the reason for this increase? Then, an additional sum was asked for on account of that wretched Obelisk on the Embankment—for one of the most unsightly objects in the Metropolis. An additional amount was put down for the main drainage, £400,000 being asked for instead of £300,000. He proposed to refer the Bill to a Select Committee to take evidence as to the cause of these excesses. There was a great deal in the Bill that could not be explained now; the borrowing powers asked for by the Board had gone on advancing by leaps and bounds; £27,000,000 had been raised or asked for, and he should like to know where this was all to end? No doubt the Board had done excellent work in improvements; but if they came to Parliament for Parliamentary sanction to raising these enormous sums of money—as much as the interest of the National Debt for a year—then they ought to accept Parliamentary supervision. He begged to move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Bill be referred to a Select Committee,"—(Mr. Monk,)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he was surprised that, considering the period of the Session, the hon. Member for Gloucester had not deferred his objections to this Bill. He would go through those objections as briefly as he could. The hon. Member said the Money Bills of the Board had not Parliamentary sanction; but, as a matter of fact, Parliamentary sanction had been given to every item contained in this Bill. All these things—the Main Drainage Bill, the Bridges Bill, and others contained in this Bill—had passed through Parliament; and he thought, therefore, that the hon. Member could hardly maintain his recommendation to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. With regard to the Treasury, he thought the noble Lord the Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Frederick Cavendish) would state that the expenditure of the Board was under the control of the Treasury. The Treasury Auditor audited every one of the accounts, examining them whenever he chose. He could not conceive that it was a wise and proper policy that, after all these things had been passed by Parliament, they should be revised by Parliament, as was now proposed. With respect to the increased demand for the Fire Brigade, everyone knew that the houses in the Metropolis were increasing in every direction, and demands for increased protection from fire came from all sides. The Board felt it to be their duty—and he believed the House would agree with them that they were bound to do everything in their power to afford protection against fire. He admitted that they had gone slightly beyond what Parliament sanctioned last year, and they were asking for an increase at the end of the year in order to extend the protection from fire. The hon. Member talked about that "wretched Obelisk." Well, Parliament sanctioned its being erected, and it was considered better to make the Obelisk an ornament rather than the reverse, and there had been a slight increase in the cost. Those who understood the casting of metals and artistic work would be perfectly well aware that artists were not always within their estimates exactly, and sometimes more money had to be given. The Board thought they would be able to put up figures and other ornaments at a trifling cost; but they were now obliged to add a few thousand pounds; and he did not think it right to use the epithet the hon. Member had applied to the Obelisk. To come to a larger and much more serious matter, the hon. Member objected to the amount asked for for the main drainage of the Metropolis. At this time of the year, when there was not a surplus of water, but, perhaps, slightly the reverse, hon. Members might not be so anxious as the Board were, who knew that the rainfall sometimes came down in a heavy and constant downpour, and who had had representations from every district urging them to prevent houses being flooded. They were anxious to meet that difficulty; and instead of putting the whole of the surplus water into the ordinary sewers they were trying to put the rain-fall into a separate system of sewers to carry it into the Thames. For that purpose they were obliged to ask for a certain extra amount of money, and he was sure the House would agree with him that it was much better to spend an extra £50,000 or £100,000 than to allow hundreds and thousands of people to be flooded out of their houses and their premises destroyed. He had received thousands of letters showing the injury that had been done; and if the hon. Member only saw them he was sure he would sympathize with the people, and, instead of opposing the Bill, would help him and the Board in every way to prevent these dreadful occurrences. He should be glad to answer any questions hon. Members might wish to ask.


realized the importance of the matters contained in the Bill, and expressed a hope that the Corporation of Dublin might be able to induce the Chief Secretary to give them similar powers. He wished to ask the hon. and gallant Member (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) who was made liable in the Metropolitan Board of Works for any mistake in the signing of cheques, and whether the Insurance Companies contributed anything in return for the benefits they received from the Fire Brigade?


replied that, with respect to cheques, he believed that the individual members of the Board were not liable; but be had power to disallow any charges he thought improper. All the members of the Board were liable somehow; and with regard to the Insurance Companies, they paid so much per £1,000,000 on the insurances effected on property in the Metropolis.


said, he hoped his hon. Friend would not press his Amendment to a division, although he was very much inclined to agree with the object of it. It seemed very desirable that this Bill should be considered by a Select Committee; but if that were done this Session, it would prevent the Bill passing, and so cause serious inconvenience. The object of this Bill was to bring before Parliament annually the liabilities of the Metropolitan Board of Works. Up to the time of the important change made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster, Bills were passed from time to time giving enormous powers to the Board for borrowing, and it was not an easy task for anyone to discover what their liabilities amounted to. Now, however, under the new system, there was an annual survey of all those liabilities; but he hoped the Bill would be introduced next year at such a period that it might be referred to a, Select Committee.


said, he hoped the hon. Member would withdraw his Amendment, on the distinct undertaking that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee next year. There were many things in it to be objected to; but it was important that the Bill should pass.


, on the assurance of the noble Lord (Lord Frederick Cavendish), had much pleasure in withdrawing his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 to 7, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 8 (Power to Board to expend money for purposes of the Metropolitan Bridges Act, 1881).


moved to reduce the amount of £760,000 for the erection of Bridges to £560,000, mainly Putney and Battersea Bridges. It was proposed to spend £406,000 on Putney Bridge, which could be built for £206,000.

Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 25, to leave out "seven," and insert "five."—(Mr. Firth.)

Question proposed, "That seven 'stand' part of the Clause."


explained that Sir Joseph Bazalgette had prepared two designs for Putney Bridge, one entirely in stone and the other in stone and iron. He hoped the hon. Member would agree with him that when they were going to erect bridges, it was wise that the Board should erect bridges that would last, and which would be bridges of good design and handsome structure, instead of tumble-down timings. The Thames Conservancy required a certain amount of headway, and the bridges had to be raised higher than they otherwise would be. To do that the Board were obliged to take land on both sides in order to make proper gradients. They hoped, however, to subsequently sell some of that land and so recoup the ratepayers. For Putney Bridge £460,000 was set down as the cost; but the net was £406,000; and for Battersea Bridge the amount was £240,000 gross and £215,000 net. It was absolutely necessary to spend £62,000 in alterations of Vauxhall Bridge, and—12,000 on Deptford Bridge; and the total net amount was—695,000. Whenever the Board had power given them in this way, they endeavoured to show the total sum required in each year, and the original grant was reduced each year by what was spent in each year. He hoped the hon. Member would not press his Amendment.


observed, that the money of the ratepayers was being voted without anyone knowing how it was to be spent; and asked whether the sum of £82,760 to be raised for bridges up to December 31st, 1882, was the total amount intended to be spent; or whether more would be asked for after that date? It was the duty of the House not to pass a Bill of this kind off-hand, and he trusted this would be the last time a Bill of this nature would be brought forward without any real information.


said, the sum named was the gross estimate for the whole of the work; and the Board did not propose to ask for any further amount. The expenditure of this money would be shown year by year.


asked whether the hon. and gallant Member would guarantee that the Bill should be brought in next year in time to be referred to a Select Committee?


replied, that this Bill had been before the Treasury for two months. He did not think it wise to send the Bill to a Select Committee; but he would take care that next year the Bill should be introduced in time to be referred to a Select Committee.


was willing to withdraw the Amendment, although the point he raised had not been touched by the hon. and gallant Member.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 9 (Power to Board to expend moneys during year ending 31st December 1882, for purposes of 18 & 19 Vict., c. 120, s. 144, and 25 & 26 Vict. c. 102, s. 72, of Street Improvements Act (35 & 36 Vict. c. clxiii.), of Parks and Open Spaces Acts, of Embankment Acts, Improvement of Sun Street, of the Obelisk on the Victoria Embankment, and of the Toll Bridges Act, 40 & 41 Vict. c. xcix).


proposed that sub-section (d) of the clause be omitted. This sub-section dealt with the Obelisk, and he observed that anything more worth- less than bringing home that wretched stone from Egypt was never done. It was proposed to spend £12,000 for Sphinxes to be placed at the base of the Obelisk. For what earthly purpose? So far as he could understand, they would only make the Obelisk worse than it was at present. It was no embellishment to the Embankment, and it gave no information. It was part of a wretched system of bringing home pieces of stone and other things that were found abroad "to adorn our mud-built capitals." He considered this a waste of money, and he protested against the proposed additional expenditure for adding Sphinxes to the Obelisk.

Amendment proposed, in page 4, line 10, to omit sub-section D.—(Mr. Willis.


pointed out that the Obelisk was not bought by public money, but by private money. He disagreed with the hon. and learned Member as to the bringing home of old stones, and, reminding the Committee of the Elgin Marbles, said he thought it a great distinction to the Metropolis to have this Obelisk. The sum proposed was small, and did not all go for Sphinxes; and he thought that at that hour time would not be profitably spent in discussing it.


said, he hoped the Amendment would be withdrawn, and mentioned that the Board of Works had had nothing to do with bringing the Obelisk home.


advised the hon. and learned Member not to divide the Committee. He approved of the Obelisk, but disapproved of its position, for it had disfigured a beautiful piece of masonry. The Obelisk was a good piece of work, and if it had been put up in a proper place, everybody would have been pleased. He would not discourage the Board of Works when they were spending money on artistic objects.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 (Power to Board to expend money for purposes of street improvements under 40 & 41 Vict. c. ccxxxv. and 42 & 43 Vict. c. cxcviii.).


said, sub-section (a) of this clause gave power to the Board to raise £1,500,000, "or such further sum as the Treasury may approve." He thought that the power to raise this £1,500,000 was quite sufficient borrowing power to give this year; and he should oppose any further power being given through the Treasury.

Amendment proposed, In page 5, line 11, to leave out the words "or such further sum as the Treasury may approve. "—(Mr. Monk.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."


said, the Board put in the Estimates as accurately as they could; but in some cases it was necessary to go to the Treasury in order to go on with the work. He did not think they ought to be bound for a few thousand pounds.


pointed out that power was proposed to enable the Treasury to advance up to £37,112, and said it was monstrous that power should be taken to raise £2,000,000, when the Board of Works only asked for £1,500,000. If the hour were not so late, he should be disposed to move to report Progress; but if the Committee were determined to carry the Bill through, that was a stronger reason for sifting these matters next Session by means of a Select Committee.


said, that the amount of £3,700,000 was the entire sum since 1877; the amount of—1,500,000 was in consequence of the work being carried on more rapidly than was expected. He did not think there would be much economy in delaying the work.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 41; Noes 19: Majority 22.—(Div List, No. 330.)

Clause agreed to.

Clause 12 (Power to Board to expend money for purposes of schemes under 38 & 39 Vict. c. 36).


said, that the observations he had made on the last clause might apply to this; but as no answer was forthcoming then, he supposed none would be made now.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 13 to 15, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 16 (Extension of amount of loans by Board to managers of Metropolitan asylum district).


said, the objection he had to this clause was founded on opinions expressed in a Petition from the Kensington Vestry and from other bodies. The power of the Board to raise hospitals throughout London had been questioned in the House of Lords; the policy was doubtful, and the necessity denied in all parts of London.


said, the Asylums Board had the power to raise the money, and it was simply a question whether it should come out of the current expenditure. He believed that if the interests of the ratepayers were consulted they would agree to the clause.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedules agreed to.


said, the clause which he had to propose was simply in pursuance of a suggestion made in the House by the present Home Secretary, and of a resolution passed by the Board of Works some time ago. In consequence of the answer given by the Home Secretary in the House a committee had been appointed, and was now sitting, in the City of London; but, of course, the Corporation could only deal with the matter within their own area. Outside the Corporation had no control. Therefore, he thought that the Metropolitan Board might be intrusted with the power to make a general inquiry with the view of establishing markets for food supplies for London. This was most important to those living outside the City; and though the Board might be wanting in the character of a representative body, there was no other existing body better qualified to carry out the inquiry.

New Clause—

(Expenses of inquiry as to markets.)

"The Board may, as part of their general expenses, pay all costs, charges, and expenses which may be incurred by them, up to the thirty-first day of December one thousand eight hundred and eighty-two, of and incidental to any inquiry to be instituted with respect to markets for the sale of food supplies within the metropolis, as defined by 'The Metropolis Management Act, 1855,' and preliminary to, in, and incidental to the preparing, applying for, and obtaining an Act of Parliament with respect to such markets or any of such markets,"—(Mr. Firth,)

brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."


said, the Corporation had power outside the City, and had exercised that power for many years. They had appointed a Committee who were now considering this question, and he thought the House might give them time to report. It appeared to him that this clause would only enable the Board to enter into litigation, and it was a clause that should be discussed in a fuller House. He certainly could not allow it to pass without a protest.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 53; Noes 6: Majority 47.—(Div. List, No. 331.)

Clause added to the Bill.

Preamble added.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Monday next.